Over the weekend, when we discussed the root causes for racial disparities showing up in the nation’s vaccination numbers, it was revealed that African-Americans appear to have a significantly higher rate of vaccine hesitancy than other racial groups. This has shown up in the numbers for more than a dozen states that collect and report such data, as well as in major cities including Philadelphia and Chicago. But one serious hotbed of mistrust of these new vaccines comes from deep in the south. The residents of Tuskegee, Alabama, a small city with a significant majority of Black residents, are staying away from the vaccination center in droves. And no matter what your feelings may be about vaccines in general, it’s hard to blame these folks for feeling some mistrust of the government. (Associated Press)
Lucenia Dunn spent the early days of the coronavirus pandemic encouraging people to wear masks and keep a safe distance from each other in Tuskegee, a mostly Black city where the government once used unsuspecting African American men as guinea pigs in a study of a sexually transmitted disease.
Now, the onetime mayor of the town immortalized as the home of the infamous “Tuskegee syphilis study” is wary of getting inoculated against COVID-19. Among other things, she’s suspicious of the government promoting a vaccine that was developed in record time when it can’t seem to conduct adequate virus testing or consistently provide quality rural health care.
“I’m not doing this vaccine right now. That doesn’t mean I’m never going to do it. But I know enough to withhold getting it until we see all that is involved,” said Dunn, who is Black.
Tuskegee isn’t much of a “city” in terms of its size. With a population of around 8,500, it would barely qualify as a village in many areas. But it’s famous for a few things, including one of the darker chapters in the history of the American government. For those not familiar with the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, from 1932 until 1977 (!) government medical personnel gave placebos to unsuspecting Black patients seeking treatment for syphilis. This was done so they could study the full course of the disease.